To the right is a simple 5 Step Strategy for how to take an emotion that is starting to rear its ugly head, and put a lid on it before it gets out of control. The reason why we want to stop this, apart from the obvious, is that when our negative emotions take over, they hijack our brain and ability to use it most effectively. They sort of make us a little dumber! Not where we want to be.
So below I explain why the 5-Step Strategy to the right actually works. So get ready to take your knowledge of why we can down out of the trees many thousands of years ago and went on to become the master race.
Understanding The Basics
The way I will explain the 5 – Steps is to look at each one and tell you what happens and why. I will just go over the basics, but if you want to go deeper at the end I will recommend some resources.One point to note is that the brain has evolved over 1000’s of years to be hyper sensitive to danger (or the perception of danger). Great benefit in the savanna, crap benefit in the office.
Step 1 – Label it (the emotion). Studies of the brain by neuro-scientists have found that when we label an emotion with a series of brief words it actually reduces the intensity of the emotion. It is like the brain goes “Oh, right, I get it. It is just anxiety. And not an immediate threat to my life by a maddened saber-toothed tiger.” If on the other hand you explain the emotion in extensive detail, you will actually feel worse.
“To reduce arousal, you need to use just a few words to describe an emotion, and ideally use symbolic language, which means using indirect metaphors, metrics, and simplifications of your experience. This requires you to activate your prefrontal cortex, which reduces the arousal in the limbic system. Here’s the bottom line: describe an emotion in just a word or two, and it helps reduce the emotion. Open up a dialogue about an emotion, though, and you tend to increase it.” David Rock from Your Brain at Work.
Step 2 – Deflate it. By changing the language that you use to describe the emotion (a wee bit bothersome) you take the wind out of its sails, so to speak. Our language plays a big part in the intensity of the language we feel. Compare the words, “That’s totally going to destroy my life” versus, “That’s a wee bit bothersome”. One turns the emotional intensity up (making it a lot harder to manage) and the other turns the intensity down. Same event, just different perspective.
Step 3 – Distract it. Breathing in oxygenates the brain, relaxes the stomach and takes your mental attention to the breath. Looking up gets you into your visual creative space as opposed to your internal self talk and dialogue. Breathing out with a sign and big ‘ahhhhh’ tends to let the reptilian part of the brain to wind back the ‘fight or flight’ response which is chemically brewing. The signal is…”There is no life threatening attack. Please go back to doing your normal daily management stuff.” Essentially you are breaking a habitual pattern here.
Step 4 – Change Focus. This naturally flows on from Step 3. Once you change your focus, which is a conscious and deliberate act (called Mindfulness by both science and philosophy / religion) you take energy out of the limbic part of the brain (which deals with emotions) and redirects energy to the neocortex (the evolved and conscious thinking part of our brain – which is the one we need if we want to come up with smart solutions in any given situation). When we really focus our attention on our left thumb, it fills our conscious mind, and doesn’t allow space for negative thoughts and memories to take up space.
Step 5 – Replace it. Now is the time to install a new mantra or program or way of being for your mind. Most of the time our beliefs and thoughts are not 100% true in 100% of cases. They are just what we have built up over time. So I am a big fan of CONSCIOUSLY CHOOSING what thoughts you want to take up residence in your mind. How does “Life Really Wants Me to Succeed” make you feel? It suggests that the big unknown is for you and not against you. That it is trying to help you succeed. That you have this unseen support in your life. Don’t know about you, but that makes me feel pretty damn fine!
So there you go. A very simple strategy and 5-Step process to help you stop negative emotions before they get out of control. Now like every physical muscle needs repetition and focus to become stronger, so too do these mental activities need to be practiced on a regular basis. The more mental reps you do, the stronger you become mentally. LOVE IT!!
Here’s to stopping Negative Emotions before they get ‘Out of Control’
If you would like to listen to an MP3 recording of this Post you can listen in below, as Carl Massy in his very unique style lets you know how to apply the 5-Steps for stopping Negative Emotions at the front door.